Husband, father, grandfather, obstetrician and gynecologist, bridge player, stamp collector, workaholic. Born June 20, 1928, in Winnipeg. Died July 30, 2011, in Sarnia, Ont., of heart failure, aged 83.
Everyone in the north Winnipeg neighbourhood where Arthur Smithen grew up in the thirties had a nickname. There was a Berty, a Davey and a Shorty. Arthur officially became Corky after it was decided that he looked like a tall boy with big ears featured in a comic strip.
Corky was a mathematical whiz in elementary and secondary schools and a gold medalist in medical school. When he had difficulty obtaining a place in a Canadian university because of the anti-Semitic quotas in the 1950s, he went to Ireland to attend a surgical university in Dublin. To the end of his life, he humbly carried his “don’t-rock-the-boat” attitude with him. He accepted what life handed him and never complained.
He returned to Canada to practise medicine in Flin Flon, Man., where he met his wife of 52 years, Jean, and started a family. They first adopted Kathryn, then twins Gillian and Erin, and eventually four more children were born – Patricia, Michael (who died at the age of 2), Peter and Lucas. With their mixture of races and religions, Corky sometimes joked they had the United Nations in the family van.
In the early 1960s, Corky decided he wanted to train in obstetrics and gynecology, and the family moved to Kingston so he could attend Queen’s University. After he graduated, they moved west to Sarnia, Ont., where he practised medicine for more than 30 years. He was proud to have delivered hundreds of Sarnia babies during his career. An old-style doctor, he was respected in the community but remained down-to-earth. His professional philosophy was always to treat the patient first and worry about getting paid afterward.
A consummate workaholic, Corky suffered three heart attacks and had triple bypass surgery during his years as a small-town doctor. He was his happiest when he was working, though, no matter the toll on his own health.
He had golf clubs but they were never used, instead gathering dust in the family’s garage. He did make time for some personal passions, including bridge. He was a fierce player, achieving his Life Master status in 1985.
A couple of weeks after Corky’s funeral, at a lakeside cottage in Bayfield, Ont., his children and grandchildren wrote him a message of love and placed it in a nearly empty bottle of Manischewitz that had been used the night before for the blessing at a Shabbat meal. One of the Shabbat candles was used to seal the bottle. Three of his granddaughters swam 30 metres from the shore, with the rest of the family watching, and threw the bottle into Lake Huron.
Wherever his bridge-playing soul is now, Corky is likely sipping the syrupy wine and toasting his family.
Kathryn L. Smithen is Arthur’s daughter.